Weeknight Shorts: Casual Dining

In an effort to take things slow in the summer, I sometimes need to cook ahead and look to the fresh produce of the season to make dinner fit the bill. But when the result is a main dish salad brimming with tender chicken, crunchy vegetables, and a tangy dressing that I would literally sit down and eat with a spoon, summer becomes about so much more than just taking it slow:

Every couple of weeks, we get a CSA box brimming with fresh vegetables and they inevitably end up on our plates in amazing salads, wraps, casseroles, and more. This salad boasts everything from cilantro and garlic in the dressing to tomatoes, peppers, scallions, and greens in the salad itself. I also used some cooked chicken that I put together earlier while putting together menus for the week.

I happened to use the vegetables outlined in the recipe below because they were on hand and fit well with the taco theme of the dish. If you happen to have other items on hand, feel free to use them instead. If you want a bit of heat in the dish, add some diced jalapeño to the dressing or even tossed with the salad. Make it a bit heartier with the addition of sweet corn kernels and/or black beans. You could even replace the chicken with something like grilled steak or pork or omit it altogether. As is often the case with salads, this one will tolerate a lot of tweaking.

Food like this loves to be served on festive dishes and enjoyed outdoors. I've been known to pour a tall glass of lemonade and grab mint leaves from the patio to toss in my drink as I enjoy the sounds of birds in the yard and the sight of my patio flowers, herbs, and vegetables around me. You could add savory muffins or slices of bread with soft goat cheese spread on them to the meal if you'd like, but a plate of salad and that glass of lemonade will also do just fine.

Cilantro-Taco Chicken Salad

For the Cilantro Vinaigrette:
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
For the Taco Salad:
  • 2 chicken breasts — sautéed or grilled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8-10 mini sweet peppers, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons diced scallions
  • 10 oz. mixed greens

To make the cilantro vinaigrette, combine all of the dressing ingredients in a blender, food processor, or cup of an immersion blender. Blend until smooth.

To make the salad, toss the vegetables (except the greens) and chicken with the cilantro vinaigrette. To serve, spoon the chicken mixture over a plate of mixed greens. Serve with chips and salsa, if desired.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

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